Chicago Peppercorn Steak

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Steak was an occasional Saturday night dinner treat I experienced growing up in the Chicago area.  It was also the item to order when going out to a fancy restaurant. Over the years, my Mom waitressed at high end restaurants, country clubs and steak houses, and I think she learned this recipe from the chefs.

Midwest beef was corn fed, but when moving to the West Coast, one of the first things I noticed was the difference in the taste between grain fed and corn fed beef. I've come to accept and enjoy grain fed and use Mom's recipe to make peppercorn encrusted steak.

Watching for steak sales at $6.00 a pound or under I figure a 10 to 12 oz. steak is ample for the two of us. Often the store packages several small steaks in a package. I purchase, repackage, vacuum seal and freeze in 5-6 oz portions. I then have them on hand for a Saturday night dinner, surf and turf dinner, or special occasion dinner for guests.

Every bite of steak with the crack and crunch of the peppercorn with the sauce makes for a Saturday night treat.  Add a salad and baked potato and you'll think you've eaten at a high end restaurant at a fraction of the cost. It's also a way to turn a less expensive cut of meat into a gourmet meal.
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Chicago Peppercorn Steak
2 New York strip or sirloin steaks (5 to 6 oz. each), 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick, patted dry
garlic powder
1-2 Tbs. whole or coarsely ground black peppercorns
olive oil for the pan and to rub on steaks
2 to 3 Tbs. butter, sliced
1/2 cup of wine or beef broth to make sauce

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Light rub oil on each side of the steak and lightly sprinkle with salt and garlic powder on both sides, then press peppercorns into steaks on both sides. Let set to room temperature, Set a large cast-iron skillet over high heat and add enough olive oil to coat pan. When oil is very hot, add the steaks, cooking until browned on each side, about 2-3 minutes each side. Remove the skillet and put in preheated oven. 

For medium-rare steaks, roast for 5-6 minutes. Transfer steaks to a warm plate and tent with foil and let rest for 10 minutes for juices to redistribute.

Put the skillet back on the burner and heat to medium high. Add any juices from resting steaks. Add wine or broth and cook until it's reduced, scraping up the browned bits and peppercorns with a wooden spoon. Whisk in the butter, until melted. Taste and adjust seasonings, drizzle sauce over steaks, and serve immediately with more sauce on the side. (Variation: a little cream may be added to the sauce, if preferring cream sauce)

Pan drippings and sauce can also be used to make gravy, by thickening with flour, if desired.

Estimated cost: $5.00 or less; $2.50 per serving

Creamy Asparagus Ends Soup

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I make numerous kinds of soups and chowders, so am well stocked up with broths and bullion cubes, as they're so handy for soups, sauces and gravies.  

In the spring, stores seem to offer sales on bags of asparagus.  I can't stand to throw away the snapped off ends -- "waste not, want not," as the saying goes.

Blanching, freezing and repackaging asparagus is a frugal way to have it on hand for future meals, so save the ends to make this soup.  

Since they're going to be thrown out or put in the compost pile, I figure they're practically a freebie for this recipe, so their cost isn't figured in the estimated cost.  

Other ingredients for a quart of this delightful soup amount to around a dollar. Serve with crusty bread and a salad for dinner or lunch.

Also makes a great first entree/appetizer soup.

 photo D7115132-415A-4089-9945-552CC39806E8_zpscv7zbgvt.jpg Creamy Asparagus Ends Soup
25-60 sliced asparagus ends, about 2 cups 
1 onion, chopped
4 chicken bullion cubes
1 quart of water  
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 Bay Leaf
2 medium potatoes, cubed
4 Tabs. lemon juice
1/2 cup cream or milk
3 Tabs of butter
salt and pepper to taste

(optional toppings for garnish) grated or shaved Parmesan,
cooked prosciutto, crumbled bacon bits, parsley, chives, lemon zest, or croutons

 photo 8BE4BC7D-FE7C-4037-83FB-D5C312E14935_zpsamjhyctm.jpgPlace sliced asparagus ends, bay leaf, chopped onions, and garlic in a large pot and fill with broth. Bring to a boil and simmer 30-40 minutes until asparagus is very soft and mushy. Remove Bay Leaf.
Blend asparagus and liquid using an immersion wand or blender. If using a blender, blend in small batches as liquid is hot.  Blend until smooth with very little pulp or fiber. If necessary use a fine strainer to remove pulp. My immersion wand blends it fine enough so that I don't need to strain it.

Add the blended asparagus stock back to the cooking pot and add potatoes. Simmer on medium low for 20 minutes until heated and potatoes are soft. Mash and/or blend well. Add lemon juice, cream, butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir until blended.

Serve hot and garnish bowls of soup with grated Parmesan, fried prosciutto, roasted asparagus spears and/or zest of a lemon.  
Serves 4 - 6

Estimated cost: $1.00 or less; .25 cents a serving or less.

    Perfect Medium-Rare Roast Beef

    I grew up when Sunday dinner was a weekly "must" either at home, grandparents, or other relatives. While many dinners offered roast chicken, chicken and dumplings, or pot roast, a Roast Beef Dinner garnered the most attention and raves, as folks talked about taste, "doneness,"  and women discussed their methods.

    Roasts must be crusty on the outside and ends, medium-rare as possible inside, tender, and thinly sliced. Who got the end pieces was open to negotiation!  Nothing was worse than ruining a perfectly good roast and serving it "too well done" in our family.  Women earned bragging rights for cooking the perfect roast beef served with mashed potatoes, and of course perfect gravy.

    My mom was Italian, so many Sunday dinners at our house were Italian dishes. She passed on making roast beef, unless grandma visited, then she let gram cook it. Other Sundays at relatives, on gram's German side of the family, roast beef was the holy grail of cooking achievements.

    Here's the method passed on to me that works perfect every time.

                               Perfect Medium-Rare Roast Beef
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    • 4 to 6 pound sirloin tip or beef rump roast at room temperature.
    • Lightly rub with oil and seasoning such a rub, or garlic, salt and pepper.
    • Preheat oven to 500, then roast uncovered in a pan at 7 minutes per pound.
    • Turn off heat and let roast in the oven for 2 hours.  Do NOT open oven door.  Do NOT peek!
    • For frozen beef, first brush with oil and seasoning and put directly in 500 oven for 1 1/2 times longer than room temperature time, about 11 minutes per pound.
    • Turn off heat and let roast 2 hours with oven closed.  Do NOT open oven door.
    Remove roast, slice thin, keep warm, and make gravy from drippings and juices.
    Serves 8 - 10 for a 4 pound roast.

    Estimated cost at $3.00 to $4.00 a pound for 4 pound roast: $12 - $16; about $2.00 per serving or less.